- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

School choice is often discussed in terms of policies that provide students with educational options. Overlooked, however, is the fact that teachers also benefit by having career choices as part of the school choice platform. The fact is every educational setting is a choice. Public schools, public charter schools, private and parochial schools, and virtual schools - these are school choices in action. Adapting to a 21st-century profession, teachers across the country are taking advantage of these new teaching environments with tens of thousands of teachers educating nearly 8 million children throughout the United States.

This movement has meant positive advancement of the teaching profession. Educators are empowered to make their own decisions in deciding when, where and how to teach kids with school choice options in play. The entire profession is becoming - well, more professional as a result.

It’s no wonder that education is offering more choices in where and how we learn. We demand choices in items like our smartphones, health care and automobiles. We then customize those choices: iPhone or Android, tablet or laptop, compact or SUV. Our education system is no exception. In fact, it’s an inevitable evolution, but the stakes are much higher than apps downloaded to a smartphone.

Some may bristle at the notion of school choice policies. Teachers, though, should understand that choice will bring even more options for students and for teachers in years ahead. With these changes comes an enormous opportunity for the next generation of educators - flexibility, autonomy, control and creativity. It’s not about what grade one teaches but a combination of factors, such as what type of school, what kind of curriculum, how many days a week and what kind of student.

We will live in a world where education will not only address the uniqueness of students but of teachers. Why shouldn’t it? Both have specific interests, needs, strengths and weaknesses. Why not customize a child’s educational experience and a teacher’s professional experience?

Some try to promulgate a myth that teachers are not in favor of choice policies that allow such opportunities, yet thousands of teachers across the United States support this new direction and are teaching in choice schools every day. According to a membership survey of the Association of American Educators, a nonunion teachers’ organization that I lead, teachers are onboard with many school choice policies.

Specifically, 76 percent of survey respondents agree with a robust virtual education law in Utah that allows students online access to Advanced Placement courses, any foreign language, and high-level science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. Even more teachers, 78 percent of those surveyed, agree with an Oklahoma law that provides a tax credit to individuals and corporations that donate to organizations providing “opportunity scholarships” to students in failing schools. There is an understanding amongst educators that options for students are beneficial and that educators, in turn, can also reap rewards.

Take for instance Crystal Van Ausdal, a virtual school teacher at the Open High School of Utah, a public online charter school. Crystal, a new mother and former traditional public school educator, now teaches online, all from the convenience of home while her newborn son sleeps. Her flexibility has increased, yet she still has the ability to practice her vocation with the use of today’s technology. While personal circumstances may have changed her priorities, Crystal and teachers like her are finding they are not only able to continue their careers but develop skills in ways they never could have imagined. As the system evolves, flexibility and options will continue to attract and retain some of our nation’s best educators.

Gary Beckner is the executive director of the Association of American Educators (aaeteachers.org).

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